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Story highlights

Paul Waldman: The CIA confirms Russia hacked the US election

He says Republicans quashed efforts to push back on Russia

We need 9/11-type commission to probe how it happened, Waldman writes

Editor’s Note: Paul Waldman is a senior writer with The American Prospect, a left-leaning magazine, and a blogger for The Washington Post. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

CNN —  

Now we know: Russia was apparently trying very hard to get Donald Trump elected, and the two parties reacted very differently to that fact.

We already knew that the Democratic National Committee had been hacked, as had the emails of John Podesta, the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s campaign. We also knew that intelligence officials and independent cybersecurity analysts believed that those hacks came from Russia.

But Friday, The Washington Post reported that the intelligence community had definitively concluded that Russia was behind these hacks, not merely to sow chaos and destabilization but to help Trump win.

Paul Waldman
Courtesy of Paul Waldman
Paul Waldman

The Post told of an extraordinary meeting on Capitol Hill in mid-September, when FBI Director James Comey, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson and other officials met with the leadership of both parties. They made the case for a bipartisan statement sending a warning to Russia that such actions would not be tolerated.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell put the kibosh on it.

“McConnell raised doubts about the underlying intelligence and made clear to the administration that he would consider any effort by the White House to challenge the Russians publicly an act of partisan politics,” the Post reported, citing accounts of several officials.

So the White House backed down, apparently to avoid being seen as trying to aid Clinton’s campaign.

Now fast-forward about a month. Nine days before the election, Comey does something unprecedented: He announces that the FBI is investigating emails relating to Hillary Clinton that were found on a computer belonging to Anthony Weiner, the estranged husband of Clinton aide Huma Abedin. This was a clear violation of FBI policy, which dictates that the bureau shouldn’t make public comments about ongoing investigations, especially close to an election.

The news landed like a nuclear blast, dominating the headlines and television discussion for days and reinforcing exactly the message Trump wanted to send about Clinton. If Comey was trying to destroy Clinton’s candidacy, he couldn’t have come up with a better way.

So, to review: The fact that there were some emails that might or might not have something to do with Clinton absolutely had to be trumpeted to the heavens the instant they were discovered. But the fact that one of America’s foremost global adversaries was not just spying on us (which we’re used to), but was actively attempting to sway the American presidential election in favor of one candidate? That, the government didn’t want to talk about.

It isn’t that the basic facts about what Russia appeared to be up to were unclear clear before now; I myself wrote a piece in July asking why Russia’s apparent meddling wasn’t the topic of screaming headlines every day. But an announcement from the executive and legislative branches uniting in what ought to have been their outrage would have led to just those headlines, and an absolutely necessary debate about what was happening and what to do about it.

But that’s not what we got. Confronted with an attack by a hostile foreign power on our most critical institutions, Republicans decided that Russian hacking was OK, as long as it was against Democrats – indeed, as Wikileaks strategically released the hacked emails over a period of weeks for maximum political impact, Republicans celebrated.

Trump tried to deflect attention from Russia. During one of his debates with Clinton, he said, “I notice, anytime anything wrong happens, they like to say the Russians are – (Clinton) doesn’t know if it’s the Russians doing the hacking. Maybe there is no hacking.”

This was after Trump was briefed by intelligence officials who explained to him about the hacking and the evidence Russia was behind it. Let’s also remember that Trump publicly implored Russia to hack into his opponent’s email in the hopes that something embarrassing might be found there.

And Democrats, including Barack Obama, didn’t have the courage to stand up to them.

We think of American democracy as the most stable and secure in the world. But that stability and security comes not from the design of the system, but from the integrity and fortitude of the people within it. These new details, coming so late, are showing us that integrity and fortitude were both in short supply.

It’s obvious that the Republicans who control Congress can’t be counted on to conduct anything resembling a real investigation into this matter, since it may have delivered their candidate the White House (if it had something to do with Benghazi, then they might be interested).

So if nothing else, there should be a bipartisan commission like the one we chartered after 9/11, with the resources necessary to learn what happened and the independence to speak honestly about what it finds. It won’t undo the damage, but at least we might see it coming next time.